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NAHUM: A STUDY
‘The vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.’
It may be affirmed, without fear of contradiction, that the Book of the prophet Nahum is amongst the least known and studied of all the prophetical books of the Old Testament. Why this should be the case it is not so easy to say, for as a poet Nahum occupies a very high place in Hebrew literature. His style is clear, forcible, and picturesque, his diction sonorous, rhythmical, and majestic; and the entire prophecy, which is one connected whole, is thoroughly original, intensely interesting, and indicative of great poetic talent.
Nothing is known of Nahum save what he himself tells us. His name means ‘rich in mercy,’ or ‘rich in courtesy.’ He appears to have been a man of some distinction, as the town of Capernaum is generally considered to have received its name from him.
The time when the prophecy was written is also matter of dispute. Internal evidence points to the latter years of Hezekiah’s reign. The condition of Assyria in the time of Sennacherib corresponds with the state of things so graphically described in the prophecy, and it is probable that this description was written by Nahum in or near Jerusalem, where he might have seen with his own eyes the ‘valiant men in scarlet,’ the chariots flashing with steel,’ and the ‘spears shaken terribly.’
I. The picture which he presents to us is in striking accord with the Assyrian sculptures and inscriptions.—The luxury and magnificence of the inhabitants of Nineveh are noted, but also he exhibits the Assyrian as a nation delighting in war, constantly engaged in a series of aggressions upon his neighbours. He shows us the army divided into distinct corps, the most important of which are the chariots and the horsemen. He speaks of the flashing sword and glittering spear as the chief weapons, and mentions the movable forts, which we see depicted frequently on the sculptured monuments by those artists who love to represent the favourite habits and practices of the Assyrians.
II. The whole Book contains but one prophecy.—There is a unity of aim throughout; and a beautiful sequence of thought is apparent from beginning to end, with only three resting-places, well indicated by the division of chapters.
The prophet introduces his subject to us as a vision vouchsafed to him by the Almighty, and he records what he has seen in the Spirit, for the comforting and strengthening of his people in the midst of their heavy sorrow and deep distress.
What folly, what madness, to fight against the Lord! What plans canst thou, O Assyrian, think out against Him? True, thou hast conquered many nations, ruthlessly demolishing their chief cities, and the gods of these nations delivered them not out of thine hand ( Isaiah 37:12). But these were false gods. Now thou hast to deal with the God of Israel, the very and true God, the only God. He ‘will make a full end’ of thee. So utter will be the destruction that it will not be necessary to strike a ‘second time.’ Thine armies shall be consumed like thorn-bushes gathered together for burning. Even though they be ‘drenched, as it were, in their drink,’ they shall be as stubble fully dry.
Hitherto the prophet had spoken in his own name; now he confirms his statement by declaring that God Himself has so spoken: ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ The same truths which the prophet declared are now repeated. Though Nineveh be in her full strength, in the height of her power, boasting in her security from harm, trusting in her vast resources and the countless multitudes of her inhabitants, yet she ‘shall pass away,’ and this passing away shall be through the great affliction with which Nineveh should be afflicted, so great that there should be no need for its repetition.
III. In the midst of judgment the Lord remembers mercy, and therefore turns away for a brief moment from the Assyrian to address words of comfort and consolation to Judah, to strengthen and encourage His oppressed people when the ruin now threatened should become an accomplished fact.—He would make all things work together for their good, if they would but put their trust in Him. Nineveh’s yoke had been a burden almost too heavy for Judah to bear.
IV. When he had spoken this word of encouragement to Israel, the prophet turns again to Nineveh.—He gives the reason why she, who is addressed as ‘the wicked one,’ shall no more ‘pass through’ Israel to disturb. She must look to her own defences, she must prepare herself against the invader, for ‘he that dasheth in pieces’ is even now at hand, his army drawn up in battle-array before her very face. The prophet calls on Nineveh to ‘watch the way,’ ‘to fortify her power,’ but he speaks ironically, knowing well that all her preparations should be in vain, because the time for her destruction was at hand. How graphically does the prophet describe the whole scene! All passes in vision before the eyes of his mind. He speaks as though he were an eye-witness of the battle, the siege, and the final assault in which Nineveh became the prey of all those horrors which usually befell in those days a conquered city given over to plunder. He sees in vision the burnished bronze shields reflecting the sun’s rays, the chariots flashing with steel, the spears shaken and deftly hurled. In vain the Assyrian chariots rush to the rescue; in vain does the great king rely on his ‘worthies’; in vain do the best of his warriors man the walls. They can make no stand against the battering-rams of the enemy. The gates yield; the Medes pour in through them; the palace is in the hands of the foe, the queen a prisoner, the people fugitives. A few make a last desperate effort to retrieve the day by throwing themselves in the way of those who had taken to flight. ‘Stand,’ say they; ‘close up your ranks, citizens, soldiers of a country that has never been conquered. Why yield now? why turn your backs?’ In vain. They cannot induce them to return. The flight becomes general; the city is taken; the maidens are carried away ‘mourning as with the voice of doves,’ beating their breasts in anguish.
As the prophet contemplates the ruins, he exclaims, ‘Where is the den of the lions, and the feeding place of the young lions?’ The questions were asked in amazement, so incredible did it seem that this great Assyrian capital, now in the full tide of her glory and grandeur, the oppressor and corrupter of nations, should so soon become a charred and blackened ruin. Nay, so complete should be the overthrow that the very site would not be known. But Jehovah was against Nineveh. Her iniquities were filled up. The time of her punishment was at hand.
V. The third chapter introduces the reader again into the very midst of the fight.—The prophet repeats what he had said in the closing verses of the preceding chapter. He states the cause of Nineveh’s downfall, and adds that her fall will be unpitied and unlamented. Again we hear the solemn words, ‘Behold, I am against thee.’ But there are new features added. As we read we seem to hear the sound of the whips and the rattling of the wheels; we see the horses rushing on to battle, men mounting, swords flashing, spears glittering, and the last decisive stand marked by the number of the slain, the heaps of carcases, and the piled-up corpses. Oh, how vast was the overthrow, and in her distress there were none to bemoan her, none to comfort her. Nay, all that hear should ‘clap their hands,’ and all who look on her should say, ‘Nineveh is laid waste; who will bemoan her?’
Then the author himself, giving expression to his own pitiless thoughts, says, ‘Did not No-Amon perish without mercy and without one to comfort her?’ She, like Nineveh, was built on the river’s bank, surrounded by water, protected by her very position, the sea forming a rampart, and Ethiopia and Egypt, her allies, close at hand to aid and assist, Put and Lubim likewise ready to help, but all in vain. Art thou then better than No-Amon, which, notwithstanding her strength and the apparently impregnable character of her position, miserably perished? No-Amon’s fate is an illustration, a prophecy, of thine. Thy shepherds,—i.e. the princes and captains of the people—slumber. They sleep at their posts. The sheep are scattered. There is no hope. So deadly is the wound, there is ‘no assuaging of thy hurt.’ Instead of this great overthrow exciting pity or causing sorrow, all rejoice. All had suffered, all had been oppressed, for ‘upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?’ Therefore, all who hear the report of the catastrophe will ‘clap their hands’ in joy, seeing in thy fall a just retribution of Heaven.
—Rev. J. J. Dillon.
‘This is the doom of a city which was proud and overbearing and oppressive. It was not merely with the Nineveh of Old Testament times, it is with cities and communities to-day, that the God of righteousness takes to do. There is much in my native land to fill me with satisfaction and joy. I am glad to be a citizen of Britain, this royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, this happy breed of men, this little world, this precious stone set in the silver sea. Surely, mine is the queen of commonwealths and empires. But there is much, too, in my country to awaken in me concern and penitence and misgiving, if I am a Christian man. The greed of gain, the overweening self-reliance, the national sins which inflict so dark a stain, the irreligiousness, the failure to ask in public affairs for the will and commandment of Christ, the forgetfulness of all God’s benefits in the past and in the present: these things should make me blush, and should send me to my knees in confession and prayer. The Lord preserve Britain from the destruction which swept Nineveh away. The Lord sanctify the social and political and commercial life of Britain, that she may be free from Nineveh’s unbelief and evil.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Nahum 1". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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